Last week I went to see the tenth addition (or eleventh, if you include The Incredible Hulk) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. My immediate instinct is to declare my love for this film and for the MCU franchise. “It’s brilliant! Utterly flawless!” Avengers: Age of Ultron is a dramatic sequel, picking up right where the previous instalments left off.
This film has a similar premise to The Avengers, which was released in 2012, with the primary element being the threat of impending doom to humankind. Let’s face it, this is what the majority of superhero films deal with. We, the audience, are presumed to be mortal humans (shout out to all the extra-terrestrials, gods, and invisible conscious entities in the house!), whereas superheroes kind of by definition, have to be more than human, whether they’re actually a god (Thor), mutants (the Maximoff twins), a genetically altered super-soldier (Captain America), or just really rich (Iron Man). It is easy for us to glorify, glamorise, and idolise superheroes if they are protecting us—saving us—from imminent danger. How else are we supposed to identify with these protagonists?
The main exception here, I believe, is Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. For the first time in the history of the MCU, we get see what his life is like outside of the Avengers. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, he has two young kids and a pregnant wife. The brief time that the team spends at Barton’s secluded family home provides a meaningful insight into the character’s back story. I will admit it might have been nice to have a solo Hawkeye film (although this doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t get one), but this momentary glimpse into his home life is endearing, and also greatly satisfies one’s craving for some intense character development for this character. This previously under-represented character gets the attention he deserves in this film.
Age of Ultron undeniably follows the MCU trend of darker, more emotionally intense, sequels (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Hawkeye isn’t the only one whose back story we get a glimpse of during the film. The writers take advantage of Wanda Maximoff’s mind-warping abilities to reveal some dark moments from the lives of other characters as well, not only without straying from the main plot line, but enhancing it. Most notable are the flashbacks of Black Widow’s past. Marvel would struggle to create a solo film for Natasha Romanoff because of the intensely not-suitable-for-a-12A-audience nature of her life before the Avengers. As with Hawkeye, these flashbacks somewhat satisfy our undeniable curiosity about her character’s history. And it is a dark one, indeed.
If you compare Age of Ultron to The Avengers, the difference is clear. The latter was more playful—perhaps more frivolous (this is not a criticism), whereas the former sheds light on some of the issues we’ve been dying to see addressed. The tortured back stories are only one example of this. We’ve always known that being the Hulk must take a toll on Bruce Banner, both emotionally and physically. In The Avengers we see him learn to control his anger, but in Age of Ultron we see him tormented by the reality of his condition; his relationship with Natasha is a gentle one and permits the pair to define themselves separately to the rest of the group: “monsters” being a term of great significance here. By the end of the film we are left ignorant of the Hulk’s whereabouts, clearly building hype for the next sequel. With this latest instalment, Marvel has been bold. In my opinion, this is a positive step. It is not realistic for a group of people to run around risking their own lives and constantly almost getting blown up or shot to not let out a swear word every now and again. Granted, the superhero genre doesn’t really deal within the realm of naturalism, so… Anyway, Marvel was clearly aware of this issue because one of the very first lines in the film – and the very first thing spoken by one of the Avengers (Tony) – is:
This is then followed by Steve scolding him: “Language”, he says, in a condescending tone. Tony’s use of this now 12A-friendly word and Steve’s response prompts an entire, mildly humorous sub-dialogue revolving around the mocking of Steve for his traditional attitude towards swearing, which crops up every now and again throughout the majority of the film—a running joke, as it were. The creators evidently picked up on audiences’ positive responses to the light humour in the first Avengers film, and they really milked it in the sequel. Most notably, the main battle that dominates the film’s final quarter is riddled with moments of brief comedic relief, such as Hawkeye’s momentary monologue.
As I watched, entirely engrossed, I found myself laughing one moment then nearly crying the next. It’s amazing how energetic this film is—an emotional rollercoaster, as it were. A word being tossed around a lot by online critics is ‘exhilarating’. The whole thing is so fast-paced; when there’s a quiet scene, you just know that something big is about to happen. And so, I return to my immediate instinct: It’s brilliant! Utterly flawless! No, it is not without flaws. I always find that superhero films are difficult to critique (which is why I have made little attempt to do so) as they inherently require their audiences to suspend their disbelief to a dramatic degree. There will always be “too much” CGI, and corny moments are to be expected, but this is the nature of MCU films. Superhero films are simply fun, more than anything else, and Avengers: Age of Ultron does fun brilliantly.
“Ten out of ten, would watch again.” – Jack Roach (my friend who was kind enough to join me at the cinema)
Jules A Maines